5 reasons why "polymath" people & E2.0 technology are fueling a PR renaissance

Vinnie MirchandaniWednesday I experienced a cool one-two punch: Enterprise 2.0 & Vinnie Mirchandani.
If you’re not familiar with Enterprise 2.0 (E2.0) it’s an annual event focused on online collaboration/ social media tools that engage and transform people at work. (Full disclosure: one of our clients, NewsGator, is a leader in this industry).  
If you’re not familiar with Vinnie Mirchandani, he’s a former Gartner analyst, active blogger and author of “The New Polymath.”
What’s a “polymath?” It’s the Greek word for Renaissance Man (Vinnie needs to integrate an equivalent word for women). From DaVinci to Franklin, polymaths innovated the problems of the day; as Vinnie said, “they are good at many things.”
Vinnie was presenting at E2.0 because it’s a place where technology polymaths and polymath organizations hang out. Smart companies understand how a unified, communicative workforce outmaneuvers a fragmented one. Instead of keeping employees in the dark, or relying on outdated technologies like email to communicate, they’re embracing tools that foster meaningful collaboration. 

Vinnie said the characteristics of E2.0 organizations are these:

  • Ambitious community from day one – aiming for “enterprise” not a single tech category
  • People, more than machine, centric
  • Early adopter of social networks
  • Well connected around globe
  • Ethical – advocates for transparency
  • Media/PR savvy
He believes “polymathing” (if I can turn it into a verb) is the key to innovThe New Polymath by Vinnie Mirchandaniation because it encourages curiosity and “an openness to accept ideas from left field.” It also triggers the “building of widely-rounded enterprises” that are more adept at discovering new markets and technologies. Polymath thinking is helping our world tackle and resolve the “grand challenges” of our day.

Vinnie believes the world of E2.0 is creating a need for more “black swan” public relations as crises reveal themselves instantly and spread more virally than ever before. “Look no further than BP and Toyota,” he said, “it could happen to any of you.”

For communications professionals, branding gurus and PR experts, there are five takeaways:

5.  Good communications starts internally, not externally. Engage and empower your employees first – start there. Adopting new enterprise 2.0 technologies will help. 

4.  The functions of communications/branding/PR no longer reside within the confines of a “department.” These walls are breaking down and should keep breaking down.

3.  Communications 2.0 must be holistic, embracing the entire organization and all stakeholders. Communication experts can strategize, monitor and help shape, but “non-communication experts” will positively contribute to brand enhancement when properly engaged.  

2.  Transparency remains a vital idea, not a cliché. Top-down autocracy is dead. Two-way communication triggers curiosity and fresh ideas.

1.  Public relations is in an ideal position to catalyze this historic change. Remember what Vinnie said: the world of enterprise 2.0 is defined by organizations that are “people-centric,” “globally well-connected,” “advocates for transparency” and “media/PR savvy.” That’s us, right? 

Six branding lessons from "Lost"

I already miss “Lost.” Arguably, no TV show since “The X Files” was as gripping within the sci-fi genre (or whatever pseudo category Lost fit in).
There are lessons to be learned from “Lost” for communications professionals trying to build memorable brands:
Character development hooks – “Lost” grabbed us because of its fully-developed cast of believable characters. The writers gave us plenty of time to get to know them, building complex, multi-dimensional views. And not just in the here and now. We cared about these people, we hated some, we felt bad for others. They were our friends; we knew them.
Take risks – “Lost” was about plane crash victims stranded on a mysterious desert island. But its writers stripped it of clichés, envisioning bizarre happenings – from time travelling to polar bears to marauding black smoke. Major characters were sacrificed. A paraplegic could walk again, was killed off and later became death personified.
Keep it fresh – “Lost” was a giant onion with layers & layers of interconnections across all characters. It wasn’t enough to tell the tale of Ben leading ‘the Others’ or Sawyer as a former con man, they kept adding new dimensions. Just when you thought you had a character figured out, a new angle emerged. Jack was good, Jack was a leader, Jack was confused, Jack was angry, Jack was scared.
Connect the dots to build understanding – Every episode introduced confounding elements. But in the end, their writers brought most of it together, explaining why dead guys were walking around the island, what “Smokey” was all about and how Jacob came to be. They made creative zaniness work. They gave us enough information to form our conclusions without forcing a rigid interpretation.
Tell great stories – It’s harder to recall facts, but we remember interesting stories. They have beginnings, middles and ends. Stories have challenges and conflicts followed by struggle and resolution. They feature memorable characters. And they grab us. “Lost” personified classic storytelling elements.
Carve out a distinct position – How many reality, medical and law enforcement shows are there on TV? Certainly enough to exceed two hand counting. “Lost” stood out. It was the only show of its type on the air. It wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it became one of the best of all time in part because it was so distinctive.
We can apply these same lessons to our communications, branding and public relations efforts. A little “Lost” can get a company or organization found.

5 reasons CEO's hesitate to adopt social media

With so much talk about social media (especially in the PR/communications/branding industry), you might think every company is excited about it and actively participating.
Well, that’s still not the case.

According to the 2009 Business.com B2B social media benchmark study:
• Only 22% of B2C companies use social media to produce webinars or podcasts
• Only 36% of B2B companies use it for recruiting
• Only 55% of B2C companies host blogs
• Only 50% of B2B companies upload content to social networks
• Only 49% of B2C companies are using Twitter

While many not-for-profits, consumer-facing and B2B companies are all over social media, many remain laggards, hesitant to take the dip.

Why the fear, uncertainty and trepidation (or lack of belief in social media)? 

Here are the 5 most often heard misconceptions some CEO’s still have about social media: 

5. “It’s too time consuming” – Many companies are hesitant because they know it takes time – and talent – to do it right. Social media isn’t a start-stop thing; consistency is the key to ROI, proof and returns. The companies who hold this view typically don’t have the infrastructure to Tweet, blog, comment, refine and search. While it’s not a good idea to start writing a blog and then stop (leaving black holes for weeks or months), it may be – arguably – even worse to never begin at all because measurable opportunity is lost. The more companies experiment with social media and learn from it, the more corporate confidence will grow.

4. “It’s still early days” - YouTube just celebrated its 5 year anniversary. LinkedIn has been in widespread use since 2005. Blogs have been mainstream since 2004 and over 5 million are being created monthly. Despite this ample evidence, many companies have the misconception that social media is still emerging. They’re waiting for more … evidence. 

3. “Where’s the proof?” – Some executives of small- to mid-size companies look around their immediate ecosystem and draw wrong conclusions. Employees aren’t using social media for the business, but it’s because management isn’t advocating it. Traditional marketing campaigns may appear to be producing meaningful-enough results, but that’s because the superior measurement data generated by social media isn’t being generated. The CEO also isn’t feeling the heat from any … competitors.

2. “My competitors aren’t doing it” – Some companies compete in markets where nearly all the players parody each other. Differentiation is non-existent. Price is the only edge. Everyone sounds the same; they all co-opt each other’s messaging. Companies lead with feature-laden product discussions. There’s no brand personality. Everyone’s stuck, afraid to make a move in a new direction, worried about risking a misperception from … customers. 

1. “My customers don’t use it” – This is the most common refrain of all from CEO’s. “My customers aren’t on Facebook. They don’t buy products after watching YouTube videos. They don’t read blogs. So why should we use social media?” While this may be the reality, today, the truth is it’s another Catch-22: customers aren’t using social media because the companies they deal with aren’t using it. Social media is transformational: once companies start using it, their customers get engaged.  Individual voices come alive within a previously personality-free corporation and create brand personalities that yield competitive edge. You have to build the bridges first, then people cross over, communities get built and results follow.

Why PR accreditation makes more sense than ever

When Eddie Bernays was alive and kicking, he advocated licensing PR professionals.   
He once told me “Any crook, nitwit, dope, charlatan or ignoramus can use the words public relations.” He believed if our profession was regulated, “it would give our vocation a status comparable to lawyers, architects and doctors.”
Most people disliked (often hated) the idea of licensing. They felt it was a violation of first amendment rights and stifling to entrepreneurialism. They figured if a person wanted to hire someone who’s not “professional” and doesn’t have a reputable track record, then it’s their right to do so. Conversely, the PR practitioner shouldn’t be denied rightful employment.
Eddie’s idea might have been too overpowering, but the essence of his idea has never been more germane.
Like virtually every other business, the Web dis-intermediated the PR industry. The competency bar was lowered. Thousands upon thousands of new practitioners came into being globally. Limited (or no) public relations experience? No problem. Simply launch a website, stake out a position and make any claim you want. You’re an instant PR professional/agency/firm.
Recent case in point: BSMP LLC  founded by Sarah Palin’s 19-year old daughter Bristol Sharon Marie Palin. The founding paperwork says the new entity “intends to provide lobbying, public relations and political consulting services.”
Credibility is one of the reasons the idea behind “APR” makes more sense than ever. Created by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) in 1964, it stands for “accredited public relations practitioner.” 
More than 5,000 professionals from agencies, corporations, associations and education hold this PR mark. I’m one of them. Speaking from experience, the screening and testing process is thorough, well run and rigorous.

Because April is APR month, I wanted to get a current view on accreditation. I spoke with Anne Dubois, APR, Fellow PRSA Chair within the Universal Accreditation Board, the group that oversees Accreditation.  She had some interesting perspective:  

  • APR is moving in the right direction: “More professionals than ever are becoming accredited … we hope this growth continues.”
  • APR still needs to create more momentum: “Not enough professionals are APR.” 
  • APR moves us forward: “The fundamental purpose of accreditation is to unify and advance the profession.”
  • APR separates wheat from chaff: “On a personal level, achieving APR status gives professionals a mark of distinction that demonstrates their commitment to the profession and willingness to abide by the ethical and public standards held by the field.”
  • APR needs more ROI focus and visibility: “We must be diligent to continue to educate the marketplace on the value of Accreditation.”
  • APR isn’t consistently regarded by employers and clients: “It’s mixed.”
  • APR will improve if it becomes more front-loaded (i.e. more emphasis on taking it at the beginning of a career vs. waiting later, similar to earning your CPA or passing the bar): “Interesting. We’re in the research and development phase of an entry-level certification. It’s our hope we’ll be able to roll-out this new certification within the next two years. We believe this will enhance the overall value of accreditation."
  • APR needs to become more pervasive: “In a perfect world, all employers and hiring managers of public relations professionals would require Accreditation of every candidate applying for a public relations position.

Visiting Edward L. Bernays -Part 3- Actions speak louder than words

This is the third blog in a three-part series highlighting my one-on-one visit with Edward Bernays, the oft-named “father of public relations." Bernays passed away 15 years ago this week.
One of the takeaways from my visit with Ed Bernays was his belief in the power of doing vs. saying.

“I learned as a boy that actions speak louder than words. Words can lie. If I say ‘apricots are good for

Edward Bernays with David Letterman

Bernays with David Letterman

you’ maybe they are and maybe they are not. But if I get Johns Hopkins to report on the health value of apricots, that’s what I call good public relations. We didn’t rely on words, we relied on action.”
Bernays was very conscious of the words he used. “In the U.S., words have the permanence of the wind and are subject to change without notice.” With a gleam in his eye he remarked. “I used to use the word ‘gay’ as in ‘I went to the gayest party,’ but if I use that today, they would incriminate me.” He was very conscious of using non-sexist language, consistently saying “she” every time he said “he.” This was no surprise because Bernays' wife and partner was the first woman to insist on using her maiden name on her U.S. passport. 
Bernays retained a zest for life. I gave him a Beaupre coffee mug and he said “Do you sometimes drink whiskey out of this?” (uh…)
Bernays was proud of the way he had practiced. “We never worked with a company we didn’t enjoy. We’d just tell them, 'I’d like to cancel my contract.’ We never took on a client unless we got a six month or one year contract. One year would turn into 30 years.” To illustrate his point, he said United Fruit and Procter & Gamble were clients of his for three decades. He was proud to have turned down Hitler, Franco and Somoza as potential clients. 

Source: Museum of Public Relations http://www.prmuseum.com/

Bernays was living history. As I walked through his Cambridge home, the walls spoke a hundred tales. “Here I am with Eleanor Roosevelt in 1919.” “That’s Al Smith.” “This was the first flyer who flew to the U.S. from Europe.” “That’s when I worked for the State Department.” “That’s me and my wife on Fifth Avenue when we were first married.” “Here I am with the first television performer.”
Bernays was interested in people. While autographing his books for me, he asked about my personal situation. “That’s a French name.” “Are you married?” “Do you have children?" “You must have been married as a kid!” “Where did you grow up?” “What does your town do?” “Where did you get my books?” ”Are you going back to New Hampshire now?” “How long will it take you to get home?”

Bernays’s ego remained intact. As we walked through his library, I commented on his vast collection (he owned over 10,000 books). He remarked, “This is my ego shelf.” I asked him what he meant. He said, “All these books are about public relations or refer to it.” I asked if he had read all the books. He chuckled, “Well, I read the parts that referred to me.”
Bernays had a hefty ego, loved to talk about himself and had many friends and contacts. He would have loved social media.

That last comment was classic Bernays. Too complex to broadbrush, he was a most energetic man with a zest for life. While people will endlessly debate his opinions, style and actions, he was one of the architects of the public relations business.
And a fascinating person to spend an afternoon with one-on-one.

Visiting Edward L. Bernays -Part 2- PR profession would be stronger with licensing

This is the second blog in a three-part series highlighting my one-on-one visit with Edward Bernays, the oft-named “father of public relations." Bernays passed away 15 years ago this week.

Bernays was persistent. He never gave up on the idea that PR professionals should be licensed.

At the time he and I spent an afternoon at his Cambridge, Mass. home, Bernays was orchestrating the filing of a bill with the
Edward Bernays through the years

Bernays through the years

Massachusetts Legislature calling for the licensing of public relations practitioners. The bill proposed a fine of not more than $1,000 for anyone who did not obtain a license but who used the words “public relations, communications or corporate communications” in their job title. The idea stimulated lots of debate, mostly negative, and never passed.
He believed that any state that got this done “would become a leader in the U.S. for giving a vocation a status comparable to lawyers, architects and doctors.” He spoke about this for over an hour and then handed me a “what is a profession” definition written in 1974 by the N.Y. Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.

Bernays was direct and feisty. He peppered his dialogue with many “in-your-face” words to make his point and command your attention. “Today there are 51 different names for public relations, and they don’t mean a damn thing. Any crook, nitwit, dope, charlatan or ignoramus can use them.”

Bernays with Walter Cronkite and his
mother, Anna Freud Bernays 
(sister of Sigmund Freud)

I expressed my view that the need for licensing and regulation might become more urgent if clear-cut examples of societal damage were developed and shared. Bernays recalled specific occasions where this had occurred. “I was scheduled to discuss ethics with a public relations practitioner at B.U. (Boston University). The morning of the meeting, I read an article in The New York Times saying this person’s PR firm was actually behind a group which had been publicly attacking a company’s product … the same company the PR firm was trying to get as a client.” Bernays explained, “I told B.U., ‘I’m not going to discuss ethics with this guy.’”
Bernays’ sense of humor was visibly intact. He recalled the time a woman told him she was “in public relations.” Bernays said “What do you do?” She repeated that she was “in public relations.” “I didn’t ask you that,” Bernays repeated. “What do you do?” The woman replied “I give out circulars in Harvard Square.” He loved that story because it personified his ardent belief that the public needed to be protected. “People can be rooked by somebody who just wants their money without really knowing what the hell they are doing.” 

In 1990, Bernays was named one of Life Magazine's 100 Most Important Americans of the 20th Century.

This wasn’t the first time Bernays was controversial. Earlier in his career, he helped shift societal views about women and smoking. His “Torches of Freedom” campaign
showcased women smoking cigarettes in a parade down Fifth Avenue. There was no mention of Bernays’ client, the American Tobacco Company. Later in his career, he reversed his position and advocated against smoking.
In discussing PRSA (Public Relations Society of America), he said it did not take proper action in cases of ethical violations of members. “PRSA gives you an APR (Accredited Public Relations), but they don’t kick out APRs who are being unethical.” He went on, “When PRSA was being formed, I discussed organizing the equivalent of the American Bar and AMA for PRSA. But they were so eager to get money, they decided anyone with two friends and $15 could get in.”

Bernays was a teacher at heart. He patiently explained the historical basis for licensing and registration, that it was born in the Middle Ages and later formalized in England in the 1700s. “All kinds of new vocations– doctors, lawyers, surgeons, architects, accountants – were formed into associations. They were all worried to death, especially the surgeons, that anyone could use the titles without the credentials. They asked Parliament to license and register them with a Hippocratic oath with the individual agreeing to give up the title if ever convicted. This idea spread to the U.S. in the 1800s and the various existing states passed comparable laws. This is as true today as it was in the early 1800s.” 
A lot of people disliked (hated) Bernays’ idea of licensing PR professionals. It was a violation of first amendment rights, stifling to entrepreneurialism and big brother domination.
But there’s a more complex reality in existence today than when Bernays was alive.
Like virtually every other business, the Web has dis-intermediated the public relations industry. Thousands of trained practitioners has given way to hundreds of thousands, a larger number of whom are not reputable and potentially damaging to our industry, their clients and society as a whole.
Bernays' Torches of Freedom

"Torches of Freedom"

No experience? No problem. Just launch a Web site and make any claim you want. You're a PR agency! A person with chutzpah and zero track record can open a shop and call himself/herself a public relations professional. Case in point: BSMP LLC founded by Sarah Palin’s 19-year old daughter Bristol Sharon Marie Palin. The paperwork says the new entity "intends to provide lobbying, public relations, and political consulting services."
Despite this reality, I’m guessing most PR professionals still dislike the concept of licensure. They would say ‘If a person wants to hire someone who’s not professional and doesn’t have reputable experience, then they have the right to do so. Similarly, the PR practitioner shouldn’t be denied rightful employment.’

While I understand and largely support these views, Bernays ultimately believed it was imperative to protect society from “charlatans.”

Personally, I’d like to see a middle ground solution.

Visiting Edward L. Bernays -Part 1- People power is the most important force in the world

Edward Bernays with Eleanor Roosevelt

Edward Bernays with Eleanor Roosevelt

It was 15 years ago this week that Edward L Bernays – the oft-named and sometimes controversial “father of public relations” – passed away.


Four years before his death, I visited Bernays in his Cambridge, MA home. It was a memorable experience. We talked about a lot of things, including international politics, his impending 100th birthday, religion, his well-known clients, people power, the impact of action vs. words and of course his most precious topic… his belief that public relations practitioners should be licensed and regulated.


I’ll post a Bernays blog on three successive days this week to capture everything.


A little background about Bernays

By way of introduction for the uninitiated, Bernays coined the phrase “public relations counsel” in 1919 and is widely considered the modern day father of public relations. He’s credited with building public relations into a major industry by making corporations and institutions understand the value of PR, and pay for it. 
Bernays was the nephew of psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud. His seminal first book – Crystallizing Public Opinion – published in 1923 – was instrumental in making public relations an academic discipline. He created the PR industry’s first code of ethics.
In partnership with his wife Doris Fleischman, he advised such clients as Enrico Caruso, Samuel Goldwyn, Thomas Edison, Eleanor Roosevelt, Henry Ford and presidents of the United States from Coolidge through Eisenhower. His list of corporate clients was a “who’s who,” including Procter & Gamble, General Electric, General Motors, United Fruit Company, Westinghouse, Time, CBS and NBC.
In 1990, Life magazine named him one of the 100 most important Americans of the 20th Century. He lived a robust life, passing away at age 103.
One-on-one with Edward L. Bernays

Bernays with President Eisenhower

Bernays with President Eisenhower

Bernays greeted me personally at the side-door kitchen of his century-old Lowell Street home. At that moment in time, he was 99 years old, less than two months from celebrating his centennial with hundreds of people at the Charles Hotel. No one else was home, not even his controversial live-in housekeeper of the time. It was just Bernays & Beaupre.
A diminutive figure with a neat moustache and time-worn jacket, he walked with unexpected ease over creaky floors and up a flight of stairs to his second story office, a narrow, long room facing Lowell Street with many windows. We settled in and I began peppering him with questions.
The first thing that struck me was the way he carried himself. Born in Vienna in 1892, he retained a gracious and mannered charm. The letters I received from him prior to my arrival were painstakingly written in longhand. He answered his own phone. He was cordial, considerate and polite. 
"Joan of Arc of Lithuania" created by BernaysThe second thing that struck me was Bernays’ eagerness, an impressive attribute at the century mark. Sometimes it was hard getting a full question out of my mouth; he’d jump right in and start answering. He wasn’t being impolite, he just couldn’t wait to express his views. He had energy and zip to spare.
Bernays was alert, informed and his global perspective impressive. Major political change had occurred in the Soviet Republic at the time of our conversation, so I recalled Bernays’ quote from 1958 citing the “monolithic propaganda of Soviet Russia,” asking what he thought of the historic transformations. 
“It shows that people power is more dominant than central power. That was proven during the time of Louis XVI, years after the American Revolution, when one of the most powerful monarchs of the time was eliminated, kicked out. It was one of the great manifestations of people power which is the most important force in the world.” He repeated this view in the context of China.
My topic of Russia was of great interest to him because Bernays was instrumental in making the country of Lithuania independent.


“What I did was find an attractive young woman (she was in fact a daughter of a Pennsylvania coal miner from Lithuania) and then we (The Lithuanian National Council) dressed her up in white as the ‘Joan of Arc of Lithuania.’ We’d write out what she should say and then we sent her aroBiography of an idea by Edward Bernaysund on a tour.”


In Bernays’ Biography of an Idea (1965), he explained how she became a “human symbol” to represent Lithuania. “She fought hard for recognition of her homeland,” he wrote, and over time “our articles and activities swung editorial opinion… and the word ‘Lithuania’ began to have meaning for Americans.” On July 27, 1922, the U.S. officially recognized Lithuania. Lithuania became independent in 1919 and stayed independent until the Soviets took it over in 1940.


At the time of our get-together, Lithuania was being admitted into the United Nations as an independent country. I'm sure that was particularly rewarding to him.

Thanks: African American PR Pioneers who shaped our profession

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

When I prepared for my Accredited Public Relations (APR) exams (oral & written) via the Public Relations Society of America , we read and talked about the history of the profession and the notables who shaped our industry.

I learned that Sam Adams moved and manipulated public opinion during the Revolutionary War. Alexander Hamilton published 85 Federalist letters urging ratification of the Constitution.

Amos Kendall served President Andrew Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet” as pollster, counselor, publicist and ghostwriter.

P.T. Barnum was a canny “press agent” showman who leveraged publicity for his Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  

Bayard Rustin

Bayard Rustin
Parker & Lee opened the first public relations firm in New York City in 1904.

And Edward Bernays (who I had the pleasure of spending a day with in his Cambridge home) wrote many books about public relations, coined the term “public relations counsel,” and advised Presidents and CEOs.

But I never learned about notable African Americans who were influential in the formation of the PR industry.  

But now, thanks to Marcia Taylor from Norfolk State University, I know there were many

Inez Kaiser

African American PR pioneers. Her post in celebration of Black History Month made me smarter:

I now know that Ida B. Wells-Barnett promoted women’s suffrage and the abolition of lynching.

I learned that Bayard Rustin was the social cause strategist who organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech.

And I know Inez Kaiser founded the first African-American, female-owned PR firm in America.

Thanks Marcia and PRSA, and congratulations to all the pioneers who should be recognized for their contributions to the PR industry. 

Toyota should meet recall questions with big doses of transparency

Until a few days ago, who didn’t want to be Toyota? They had it all. A sterling reputation for quality. The world’s most popular hybrid car. Insanely loyal customers. And in 2009, to crown it all, Toyota ended General Motors’ 77-year run as the world’s largest automaker.
It probably would have been nice for Toyota if it could have had some time to celebrate being top dog, but that wasn’t meant to be. The company is playing defense over recalls affecting 9 million of its vehicles worldwide. The news that gas pedal assemblies on its top models can cause sudden acceleration strikes at the most durable part Toyota’s brand image – its reputation for quality. Toyota got great by making quality cars that people could afford. It built that reputation one solid, reliable Corolla, Camry and Prius at a time. Even though competitors like Honda and Nissan were rated just as highly, Toyota was to quality what Volvo was to safety – first among equals and better than everyone else.

Now the auto company that could once do no wrong has shut down production lines and instructed dealers not to sell some of its most popular models. The New York Times reported that Toyota knew about the acceleration problems two years before it issued the recall. Rep. Henry Waxman, one of Congress’ most persistent consumer watchdogs, announced he will hold hearings to investigate the sudden acceleration problem next month.

What’s unfolding is the next great case study on the value of openness and transparency. Toyota has already said it welcomes the chance to address the issue head-on and publicly at Waxman’s hearings. The company has already started a pre-emptive media campaign. Toyota issued statements saying it started working on a solution this fall, when it learned how pervasive the problem was. Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda issued a public apology from the World Economic Conference in Davos. Toyota USA President Jim Lentz faced Matt Lauer on the “Today” show. The company announced over the weekend that it has rushed millions of repair kits to dealers.
So the court of public opinion is convened. How will the Toyota brand come out the other end? It depends how the company’s mea culpas resonate with the public. If Toyota is perceived as earnest and sincere, history has shown that the public will forgive it and continue to see it as a brand synonymous with quality. If it is perceived as elusive and defensive, then the Toyota brand could become just another name in the pack.

My top 10 PR, communications and branding trends of 2009

Top 10 PR, communications and branding trends of 200910. New levels of ravenous mass media spotlighting. Arguably, 2009 featured an insane level of “we will not let this story go.” Already saturated news stories were repeated - endlessly - way past the point of saturation. From balloon boy to Octomom to Gosselin vs. Gosselin to Amanda Knox, the same B-level stories were relentlessly beaten to death. While this isn’t a new trend, it is an increasingly annoying one.
9. Under-reported storytelling. One of the by-products of over-reporting is under-reporting. Too many newsworthy stories either didn’t get covered or were given marginal, brief treatment. These stories included (as TIME magazine summarized in its year-end issue) Nigerian blood for oil, experimenting with children and the Maoist insurgency in India.
8. Twitter & Facebook went legit for business. In 2009, Twitter broadened from a consumer-level experience to a pragmatic corporate communications tool. An increasing number of businesses are using it for real-time updates, blatant marketing and thought leadership. Ditto for Facebook. LinkedIn, the social networking tool most associated with business, opened up its API and became more Facebook-like.
7. Online media became credible. In a year when print media collapsed, most people finally “got” that online visibility/conversations have gone legit. Meanwhile, the enlightened understand how online and social media is a new paradigm much more impactful than traditional media because of its transparency, authenticity and conversational two-way belief building.
6. Blogs ruled but got reeled in. Blogs became the real-time voice of corporations, the best way to communicate and build a human corporate persona. But while they were more widespread, the Federal government cracked down on bloggers in the pocket of vendors, forcing full disclosure for paid-for-booty.

5. Green became greener. While greenwashing didn’t go away in 2009, most corporations understood the mantra of needing to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. They also saw a direct line drawn between sustainability and profitability.

4. Personal corporate branding. Social networking is a one-to-many conversation loaded with self expression. Companies used to be cold and lifeless; now they're increasingly personified by flesh & bones employee personalities who put themselves out there online sharing opinions, interests and agendas. Now, thankfully, stakeholders can build helpful connections that humanize the company/customer connection.

3. Video became an accepted standard in corporate America. The days of writing extensive “case studies” and producing elaborate (and expensive) corporate videos waned in 2009. Thanks to guerilla-style, grassroots video acceptance, corporations increasingly added video to their arsenal of communications thanks to a triumvirate of benefits: believability, immediacy and low-cost. Why write a news release when you can post a three minute video of someone saying it? Would you rather read or watch?  
2. PR was re-invigorated. The words “public relations” may still conjure negative imagery, but in 2009, the PR industry began making progress towards a renewed, positive and relevant position. Driven by social media which fosters conversations vs. pitches, the PR industry made significant strides in shifting from a media-centric one-way communications model to a two-way listening model.
Social responsibility - #1 top pr, communication, branding trend for 20091. Social responsibility became embedded. In 2009, “making the world a better place” moved from ‘philanthropy’ to an appreciation for and understanding of how authentic, integrated giving-back strategy and action positively impacts business objectives and the bottom line. There’s no turning back and that’s a very good thing.                            

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